Thursday, October 03, 2013

Mad Math Men

Why do we need more of them?

The newsletter, conference, webinar circuit is full of content about Data Scientists.  There are articles on how to hire them; how much to pay them; how to organize them.  There are surveys (and client conversations) about the unique value of data - "it is a great asset" and "it is the lifeblood of our company" is heard in every board and conference room.  But there remains a disconnect in connecting the bits in order to create value.

So, what should we be actually looking for?

The nature of the work often described as 'big data' focuses on finding answers to ambiguous questions: How can we turn planes around on the ground faster?  Can we identify life events from shopping patterns?  Can we discern intent from digital signals?   To re-purpose a phrase from Jim Cooper's thinking around building companies these are the BHAP's or big, hairy, audacious problems.

To solve them requires a team that covers data, computer science, and math - but also, and possibly more important, curiosity, experimentation, and creativity.  The first set of skills is what people typically think of in terms of 'data scientist' or Math Men.  The latter set of skills come from a wide variety of non-traditional disciplines.  Art history, psychology and music backgrounds are just as valuable in providing insights into these problems precisely because they've never been solved before.  The ah ha moment that changes how we market is analogous to the big idea of creative agencies and the Mad Men like Don Draper.

In marketing this combination appears most often in the digital realm - understanding the confluence of context and content and how those interactions shape response.

Add to the mix subject matter or domain expertise and you have the makings for a Mad Math Man.

A title I aspire to....